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My employer is reneging on its remote-work promise (washingtonpost.com)
97 points by mooreds 40 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 109 comments

Utterly baffling.

Even with a short commute, I am still so much more productive at home than at the office.

Everything I need for lunch is in a kitchen in the next room, no more going out to lunch, wasting time looking for food or cooking.

Long commutes suck energy and time out of what would otherwise be productive hours.

Even the bathroom takes longer to get to and use in an office.

This move at large by the industry makes almost no sense to me. Only way it does is if these are actually targeted layoffs, or managers have a pride/visibility necessity of being seen with their peons all together.

Edit to add: They can also let those pricey RE contracts expire, save on electricity, water, and internet and all the other subscriptions and services they were paying for by having a centralized office. That's a large chunk of expenses they get to put onto employees, and for the most part employees are ok with it!

It's a lot less baffling when you start looking at it as managers trying to control things. Managers don't feel in control if they don't feel like they know what people are doing, and they don't feel like they know what people are doing unless they can see those people in person. Emphasis on feel. At this point I think it's evident that managers can collect all the information they need remotely in most cases--it just doesn't feel that way to managers.

If you look through my post history, you'll see I'm generally not on the side of administration, but this is one case where I'm a bit sympathetic. When things are going well it's easy to stay calm. But when things are going poorly, it's hard to shake the feeling that there's a solution you're missing because you're not there to see it.

But ultimately I think going back in person is bad for everyone, both employers and empoyees.

Most ICs and EMs I've talked with prefer remote. I think it's coming from higher up, execs or maybe even VCs. Probably whoever is looking at the ROI on those pricy multi-year leases.

Most ICs and EMs I have talked with prefer hybrid - 2 to 3 days in office, the rest from home. Maybe we live in different bubbles?

ICs too?

My current team manager is also an IC and is the first manager I had this last two years who understand that code review and mentorship were harder and less efficient onprem and that our non-remote days should be dedicated to informal meetings about architecture and design decisions. And eating together.

First time I have less than 3 hours of meeting a week too (the rule he enforce is no more than 5 hours, even the tech lead/architect), everything else should be 1:1. First time I've been this productive (and I'm only two months in).

> ICs too?

Yes. Typically, those were very junior ones in their first job, who were still learning the ropes. Ramping up on a complicated codebase in a remote setup was very hard for them. Also some senior ICs who wanted to design nuances of a complex system. Amount of work we got done in a few hours with a whiteboard was much more than what we achieved over a few weeks of remote "collaboration".

Eh, I don't think real estate leases are the motivating thing here. Execs/VCs are aware of the sunk cost fallacy, and leases will end eventually.

Just because one knows of it doens't mean one isn't influenced/affected by it.

I suppose that's true, I'm aware of some fallacies (such as anchoring bias) which don't seem to be changed by knowing they exist, and some fallacies which seem to change pretty drastically upon finding out about them (such as fixed mindset (as opposed to growth mindset)). I'm not sure which category sunk cost fallacy falls into.

Just because they are aware doesn't mean they aren't susceptible.

Unfortunately a lot of people are taking advantage of remote only to do much less work. In some cases at the company I work basically no work at all.

I'd be all for remote only if all those people were fired.

I'd be all for remote only if all those people were fired.

Why haven't they been? If your company's entire management structure hasn't noticed that there are a lot of people not contributing anything for a long time - or worse they've noticed and not responded to that situation - doesn't that just mean your company has incompetent management?

I've been amazed by some of the stories I've seen about the "overemployment" trend where people are taking on two or even three full time jobs at the same time while working remotely. I've worked mostly remote-first for a long time but I can't think of anywhere I've ever worked where someone who was only contributing at 50% or even 33% of what they should be wouldn't have been called out within days.

If nothing else a good employer that looks after its people would want to know if there was a legitimate and probably unfortunate reason for sustained poor performance. It could be a medical issue or maybe a bad family situation. Providing some kind of official support might be appropriate.

Of course if it really was deliberate abuse then management has to deal with that situation decisively as well. Given the dishonesty involved with secret overemployment the reaction is likely to be swift and brutal. If it's someone who just can't be bothered to do the job properly working from home then that's more of a disciplinary but not terminal matter. But one way or another management has to step in and do its own job if something isn't working.

> I can't think of anywhere I've ever worked where someone who was only contributing at 50% or even 33% of what they should be wouldn't have been called out within days.

I’ve worked at 50% or less capacity at every place I worked at. I’d say as low as 25% even. Haven’t gotten called out, remote or not.

I know of a company that had sent most employees to work remote during COVID. While this worked well for most departments, there were a couple of departments where a large percentage of people were not working (not online during required meetings, etc).

In a sane world: The CEO makes it clear to those department heads that their future depends on their teams working, and the department heads come down on the managers. People get written up quickly for not being online working, and maybe the worst few are fired. Both the workers and the managers (who should have been watching this all along) get their heads straight.

In the real world: The CEO ordered 100% of employees back to office (still during COVID), to avoid hurting anyone's feelings by calling them out for not doing their jobs.

This seems like the root problem, which frankly doesn't require one to think of VPs or execs as villains.

However, there are ways of seeing if people are doing less work that don't require forcing everyone back into the office.

* Regular check-ins.

* Measurable objectives.

* A culture of trust.

* Asynchronous, public status boards for fostering communication.

* Lots and lots of writing.

* The expectation of frequent video calls.

I have worked at remote only companies well before the pandemic and they had different organizational structures than the in-person companies.

> * Measurable objectives.

I kind of feel like this is the only item on this list that actually matters. If you don't know what people are meant to be achieving and whether they're achieving it then either (a) they don't report to you, (b) they aren't needed and should be let go, or (c) you aren't needed and you should be let go.

Which, when I put it that way, kind of explains why some middle managers hate remote work.

How about trusting your employees first? Most of the items on that lists are just busy works to give paranoid higher-ups peace of mind which actually has negative effects on employees that are actually doing work.

I'm all for trusting employees, but employees need to also show progress and deliver results. Otherwise, they aren't, well, doing their job.

BTW, failing to deliver results is not always (or even, I daresay usually) due to employee maliciousness. Other reasons someone can fail to deliver:

* They don't have the training they need.

* The task is ill-defined.

* They are in the wrong job.

* They don't have the resources they need to do the task.

* They are overwhelmed.

* They are stuck.

You could say "well, employees should be raising the red flag when this occurs" but I have found that some people don't do that, preferring to dig in and try to solve it themselves. That works sometimes, but other times much pain and time can be avoided if someone checks in and offers help/connections/knowledge.

There is arguably 1 item on that list which is strictly busy work, not many. Every other piece seems either good for communication or at worst neutral.

Every other piece seems either good for communication or at worst neutral.

Most of the other pieces increase time spent on communication. That is not necessarily the same thing.

Having worked remote-first for a long time and at several different places I would say the #1 thing you need to be effective is a different style of communication. You don't want to rely on large group meetings much. In fact ideally you don't want to force much real-time interaction at all. Save that for either genuinely urgent issues - which shouldn't happen often - or casual collaboration that your people set up whenever it suits everyone involved.

One big win from having people WFH - assuming they have a sensible working environment at home of course - is that they can actually do deep work for long periods of time. You don't have the constant "background noise" and casual interruptions that come with working in a crowded, open plan office. But if you want to take advantage of that then you need two things.

Firstly you need some other way of getting the useful incidental information sharing around the team. You'll be missing the casual aside when someone at the office overhears two other people on the team discussing something they used to work on that ends up saving those two people an entire day of investigation. You need ways for people to keep aware of what's generally happening that might relate to them and to make open requests for help or advice without it becoming a hassle for anyone.

Secondly you need to not keep interrupting the person trying to do deep work in new and different ways just because they're at home now. Tools like Slack and Teams might be great for giving the appearance of everyone keeping busy but they can be terrible for everyone actually being productive. Usually that happens if there is a culture of expecting everyone to be permanently online, replying instantly to messages, and updating their status whenever their response time might be more than ten seconds. Same goes for having multiple group video calls per day and insisting that tasks in a project management tool only take a few hours to do yet still require real-time status updates throughout the day so Monty Manager can "report on the team's progress" or whatever else he does to feel useful.

To me all these are busy works. I'm an adult. Not a child that need to constantly be checked-in or monitored to see if I'm actually working.

* Regular check-ins.

* Lots and lots of writing.

* The expectation of frequent video calls.

What were the differences in organizational structure?

These come to mind:

Meeting free days.

Yearly in-person meetups.

Leverage of online task management tools like trello.

Lots and lots of written docs and procedures.

Marissa Meyer found this out and she gave her remote workers an ultimatum because it was such a lost cause --when she had her people check access logs many had not logged in to the systems they worked on in some time.

It’ll be interesting to see what the productivity numbers reveal in the coming years.

I'm reading "Deep Work" by Cal Newport at the moment. He calls out this event specifically in a very negative light. His stance is that it's enforcing a nefarious belief that appearing to be busy is more important than being productive by punishing those who were performing deep work and rewarding those who habitually check their email, etc.

I think I am in agreement with him? Results matter not appearances. EMs should be able to tell who is working productively and access logs are a poor proxy for that.

What do you think?

I agree that it's nuanced. There are people whose contributions cannot be measured in discrete units of output. But others are. Also some people who are naturally lazy can be made more productive by virtue of being next to others who depend on them in some way.

Great book! Imagine EMs reading it, and reflecting deeply about it and what role they have in an organisation. There is so much bike shedding, fake knowledge, and nonsense in management. At best someone read a book once. How great is the average EM at management compared to programming, for example. The sentiment on scrum here on HN is a good example of that evidence imo. Management is a very underdeveloped area both in many companies, and society as a whole.

> appearing to be busy is more important than being productive

It's like a bad code review, or bike shedding. It's so easy to look at who's at their desk with their heads down. It's hard to look into what they're doing and how it fits into larger objectives.

I think write a script to satisfy the idiots and move on.

Sounds like an excuse to me. Pretending to work in-office is only marginally more difficult than doing so remotely.

It's a lot more boring though. Which is probably why they don't want to go back.

Yahoo was a cesspool at that time, right?

But it still illustrates the pitfalls some employees fall into.

Before and After Mayer, yes.

My company fired a senior engineer last year when we found out they had another full-time job. You might think "more power to them if they can pull it off" but they had a lot of sympathy from us because we could tell they were struggling, and it seemed smart to give them extra time to sort our their performance because they were obviously capable of doing better.

How did you find out about his other job?

I don't know, actually, except that I'm pretty sure his direct manager wasn't the first to know. It seems like HR knew first and informed his management chain as a group. Among his team, our guesses are that he let something slip and one of us figured it out and tipped off HR, or his other company found out and contacted us. Or, less likely, management got suspicious and asked HR to hire an outside firm to re-check his background.

Then they should get fired, just like they would by doing no work in an office. Remote work doesn't somehow remove the obligation to work or for the employer to drop unproductive employees.

> Then they should get fired, just like they would by doing no work in an office

Oh dear. I don't think you've seen corporate America.

So fire them. Or bring them back to the office where they are going to be bored and maybe quit.

Or, bring them back to the office where they will still slack off

They've increased their effective hourly rate and, given that they haven't been fired, the company seems to be fine with it. What's not to like? Sounds like you should take notes.

What stops them (or you) from doing much less work in the office? Do your managers not know what you're meant to be doing, or how to tell whether you've done it?

How do you spot these people though? In a large organization, it's hard to know. Hell, even in my team of 10 people I only really know how much 2 or 3 of my teammates are doing.

talk to your manager about company culture then instead of campaigning against remote work wholesale then

You may be productive from home. Many people are quite productive working from home --but a big amount of people are less productive working from home. They have distractions or simply do not have the habits that allow them to be productive at home and need the environment at work to push them to be less unproductive. Some people are more productive with supervision/office environment.

I'm calling bullshit on this. I think that people just assume that remote workers goof off at home when they don't goof off at home any more than they do at the office. Does the work get done, yes or no?

It's like a whisper campaign... One person says it to another, then to another, until the first person hears it second hand again and believes the story they made up.

30 something folks with big apartments and 10 years of experience might be fine working from home, but now imagine your 21 year old intern / new hire sharing a house with 3 other people. I did multiple internships in my career while living with housemates, and it would have been inconceivable for me to do that remotely... Looking back at what I learned and experienced in that office environment. I feel genuinely sad for this generation's remote interns.

Then you must know something Zuck, Pichai, Tim Apple, Musk and many others don’t know…

That their sunk costs in paying for massive real estate office complexes is making them stupid.

With all fair play to (some of) the hardware development portions of those businesses.

I wish this was the case for me. I have a wife and child. At home the distractions on constant. No amount of boundary setting seems to work as well as not being physically there.

I'd like to work from home one day but it's not possible in my current circumstances.

Utterly baffling.

Even with a long commute, I am still so much more productive at office than at home.

Everything I need for lunch and snacks is provided by my employer, no more having to figure out what to cook or order, wasting time cooking and cleaning.

Commutes are a good way to enforce separation between work and personal life, also a great way to catch up on podcasts and audibles.

And forget about productivity when kids and family are at home.

This move at large by the industry makes almost no sense to me.

Why is it baffling? Not everyone needs a company to create a work environment for them, and not everyone has to be commuting in order to catch up on their podcasts. Not everyone needs a company to decide what they eat for lunch, and most people do not get lunch provided anyway. Not everyone has a chaotic family life with children and spouses that don’t recognize their boundaries when they are working.

In case you didn't realize, I took OP's words and spun them around to create an opposite effect. I agree with you that different folks have different strokes, which was my point too.

Makes a decent argument for tech worker unions. The classic HN response is "oh, but they can just find another job", until that defining factor is being followed as a trend by nearly every company in the area.

The companies would have a much harder time telling productive employees to get fucked and come to the office with some collective bargaining.

The problem with unions is that they tend to average out pay and conditions. For many jobs that's fine, but white collar jobs, especially tech, has enormous variability in the performance and preferrences of different employees in the same nominal role. The result is that high achievers often don't want to be in a unionised workforce, and low achievers do. Companies obviously aren't going to reward low achievers at the expense of high achievers, so they won't agree to bargain.

Being in a union doesn't mean that you can't negotiate your salary.

No, but generally you might find yourself stuck in box with both a negotiated minimum and a negotiated maximum and in a lot of cases that sliding scale is driven by seniority with the org or union more than capability. Tends to work well for factories and trades, but is not so great for knowledge workers.

It also can take your organization out of the market for highly capable but younger prospects.

That's not been my experience at all. What union of IT workers does this? Where are you getting this?

I've been in unionized workplaces (Europe). There's been a minimum but never a maximum and the sliding scale is not driven by seniority with the or union as you say.

I'm afraid you might extrapolating from things you've heard about factory type unions.

Case in point: Hollywood actors are all in a union.

I disagree with the conclusion that the person probably would not be eligible for unemployment benefits if they quit.

I used to adjudicate unemployment claims, and a significant change in working conditions is considered a valid reason to quit, as long as you don't, like, go along with it for a year and then decide it's untenable.

If you quit once the change is actually required, especially if you have documentation saying the role you agreed to definitely had the condition of being permanently remote, you can still receive benefits even though you quit.

The documentation about the anxiety and/or OCD would also help. It establishes, "See? I'm doing my best to work and not depend on the government, and I thought I had found a job I could actually do, but then they changed it and now I can't anymore."

I took an employer to Unemployment court when it was clear I would not be receiving the pay rate promised at time of employment.

There was no written agreement. The judge focused on the fact I was on their schedule, and concluded I abandoned the position.

Our company let us choose to work from home or come into the office for the last 3 years. It worked very well, productivity improved.

This year they have suddenly decided to mandate 5 days a month in the office. Our people are split across continents, we spend all day on WebEx calls. We are being gaslit that being physically together with a few of our colleagues will make this work even better.

We just lost two members of our 12 person team, including a particularly brilliant one due to the new mandatory office days requirement.


My old employer did the same thing kinda. During the pandemic they put out fully remote jobs only, because they had a hard time hiring in rural Germany. I would say that their offered salaries are ridiculously low but that is a different story...

Fast forward two years and they rolled back the remote working rules. All employees now have to come to the office at least three times a week - Team leaders even more as they are considered "role models". Means the guys being located 400km away in Berlin need to figure out how to commute. Obviously they have to pay for their trips themselves. No help offered by the company.

> Means the guys being located 400km away in Berlin need to figure out how to commute. Obviously they have to pay for their trips themselves. No help offered by the company.

This surely counts as a material change of the employment contract, which cannot be imposed unilaterally.

this individual case exposes a fault line the remote work promise - what if the employer changes its approach? Unless a commitment to remote is written into the employees contract or in the state legislature that it cannot be changed once advertised, then we can see many more such instances of remote jobs creeping back to the office, with the employee being liable if they don't obey

Every job I've ever had (in the US) has been an at-will contract, meaning both I and the employer could end it at any time for any reason. This seems to be the norm in the US. So if a company decides they want me to come to the office, and I refuse, either one of us can end the agreement over that. This has always been the case. For me, in the interview process, I make it clear that I am a remote only employee and if the company ever wants me in the office, we'll have to part ways.

Edit: European countries tend to have more legal protection against companies being able to fire workers at will. I wonder if this is why so many of my European friends that have corporate jobs seem to have a hard time convincing their employers to let them work remotely.

Not legal advice. n=1

A colleague (infosec engineer) took a remote job. I told them to bake into the offer letter it was fully remote. Employer agreed after strongly pushing back, desperate for talent. Employer told them it was no longer remote. Employment attorney called their counsel by way of HR regarding the change in employment terms and constructive dismissal. Role remained remote. Financial services employer. Get it in writing, trust no one’s word, companies are not your friend.


I have a feeling this wouldn't work if it were an at-will contract. But I'd also never agree to a job if the employer was hesitant about being remote.

It wouldn’t. To me most arbitrator’s would look at a change from remote to in office in a similar vein to “the office moved across town”. Pre-pandemic, no one would question whether a company had the right to change the physical location of the office, and you would either adjust to the new office location…or quit because the new commute or location became problematic for you.

Your location was here, and now it’s here.

The role in question I mentioned above is an at will W2 role.

It would definitely be constructive dismissal, but in most circumstances constructive dismissal is only illegal if being fired normally would be.

The only reliable way is to have the clause negotiated into a union contract which also has a "just cause" termination clause.

One more reason to for tech workers to start organizing.

It's an interesting point for sure. My current job's offer letter explicitly said "spike021 will be working from $spike021_address". But I wonder if that's considered legally-binding for the company. I signed it and it's an agreement of sorts. But I'm not so sure.

sounds like a contract to me. doesn't mean they can'fire you for a made-up reason though if you don't.

I think the point is not so they can't fire you, it's so you can collect unemployment if they do. The employer can't just claim you quit.

They dont need to make up a reason. No longer liking the terms of the contract is a perfectly valid and legal reason to end it.

Most employment contracts all either party to terminate at any time.

Just ignore it and continue working from home. What are they gonna do - fire you? OK. I only want to WFH anyways so whatever.

I’m doing exactly that at one of the big name tech companies. I refused to resign when asked. It’s well past the return to office deadline and still been business as usual. Literally no negatives aside from a few awkward conversations with the manager. I’m told that HR will eventually fire me but that’s still better than daily commutes.

This was bound to happen.

When companies are fat and happy with growing revenue and employees are hard to find, accommodations are made. But that never lasts forever.

When revenue gets squeezed and people get laid off, its easy for companies to say “either come into the office or find another job”.

My guess is that very few workers will end up with fully remote roles.

More than before covid, but not much more.

Some will begrudgingly stay till one millisecond past the next large stock vest, and then GTFO.

The company has no loyalty to you. You owe it none either.

In this case, move. Or "Move" with a P.O. box / friends address to a small town where you can be fully remote.

The horror. What's this world coming to.

Well, yes. Allowing people to work from home has massive societal benefits, and we shouldn’t ditch those just to massage some managers ego.

> Allowing people to work from home has massive societal benefits

Er, citation needed on that one. Having digital nomads can also wreak havoc on small desirable places. Like this case: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/economics/remote-workers-le...

Those are two different things, digital nomad is not work from home. I mean.. they even use opposing words. Nomad means some form transient, home origin or permanent place of residence.

There is also the other way to to spin your point, what about all the small towns they've helped https://www.forbes.com/sites/lizfarmer/2021/09/15/the-small-...

"work from home" is one of those phrases where the agggregate meaning may be entirely different than individual words. It certainly encompasses digital nomadism at this point, based on how it is used among my colleagues.

Citation is absolutely not needed for something as obvious as the idea that hundreds of thousands of people spending an hour less driving every day is better.

While I understand her worries, isn't it a bit too early to speak out publicly about this even before she talked to the company itself and before the new office opened? If she has important reasons why she can't work from an office, they just might accept that and make an exception for her?

I've seen this with a couple of friends. They won't make that exception.

Corporations are not your friend. They are not actually family, despite what HR platitudes you might heat.

They will do the cost effect thing, end of story. If the cost of exceptions is $5million, and the cost of lawsuits will total $4.9million, they WILL chose the lawsuits.

Especially at the C level, where they can and will be fired and sued for not increasing shareholder value.

Remote work is cheaper and more productive for many workplaces and the numbers prove it.

Remote work is still here to stay, not because anyone gives a rat's ass what the employee wants, but because it just makes sense.

But you can’t micromanage or “team build” remotely

Oh yeah you can. Nobody said pointless and long meetings, getting pulled into big group chats and mentioned, getting voice calls and DMs every 5 minutes, etc. were going anywhere.

I'm just going to shrug here. If it's cheaper why wouldn't they keep doing that?

What many people don’t realize is that some large corporations actively manage for mediocrity. Oh, they won’t say that is what they are doing, but it is the outcome of things like micromanagement, constant meetings interrupting flow, high levels of process bureaucracy.

But there is a rational reason for it. It reduces risk and makes output more predictable. If you have a 10x developer who is actually producing 10x, how do you plan for that? What if he leaves? If you reduce him to 2x or so, it’s much more likely he can be replaced.

Interesting point. Do you know if there is a term for this in the management literature? i.e. is it ever discussed in the open, or is it more an unspoken/emergent behavior?

I've heard a phrase that I think paints a parallel picture.

"The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent"

Sure businesses are supposed to be cruel uncaring bean counting machines. But they're corrupted by all these damn apes that make all the decisions. There's no law of economics that that's that humans have to act in a perfectly rational self interest. It's an assumption that many economic theories make, for various reasons but it's far from inviolable.

What about the current economic climate makes you think anyone can afford to be irrational?

People who management see as irreplaceable may get exceptions. That isn't helpful for most of us. People who feel that their job security is tenuous will not even ask for fear of being cut. As people are being laid off by the thousands, that's basically everybody.

Employees like to work from home.

Managers can't tell what employees are doing when they work from home. They have more difficult time coordinating effort between different individual contributors therefore, when everyone works from home.

Managers are the one signing the paychecks.

No one signs paychecks who is not a manager.

Therefore in the long term all employers will gravitate toward working in the office.

Edit: OP edited to correct the confusing typo

Is this a chat-GPT response? No offense, I'm just confused by the line of reasoning.

This is a human generated response I assure you.

I'm just annoyed when people make this argument so complicated.

In general, it's quite simple and well-studied: remote work makes individual workers more productive but makes the coordination between individuals more difficult. As coordination is the primary function of managers, their job becomes more difficult. No one seems to understand this (or want to).

But once it is accepted that managers' jobs are harder when everyone is remote, the conclusion that remote work will soon experience massive decline (within the next decade) is obvious.

It will remain in varying degrees. The more coordination is needed, the more remote work will be discouraged. Workers needing more concentration but requiring less coordination, where the job is well understood, will continue to work from home. Even before the pandemic for example, call center workers commonly worked from home.

Start-ups are already very much against remote work in the large. Corporations will soon follow suit.

And no matter how much we don't like it they're the ones signing the paychecks.

I can assure you that remote work is here to stay for good and that managers will get a real job in the long-term :)

Oh in the last line of your original post, you said you think we will gravitate Towards working from home. Typo?

Is this a ChatGPT response too?

you can directly ask chat gpt this question.

I did and the answer was yes.

I actually laughed out loud.

No, this logic is not really well thought out.

This would only be the case if every employer was somehow part of an OPEC like organization and would all simultaneously require commuting.

What will end up happening is some of the best and brightest will make "remote work" a required perquisite for the next job search, and since they've got the technical chops, if a company can't meet that demand the employee can easily find work somewhere else that will offer remote as a benefit.

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